We all took notice when three of the largest and most recognizable corporate heavyweights Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan inserted themselves in the healthcare debate last January. Now we’re getting a better look into exactly how and why, remarkably because insurance giant United Health Group took legal action to prevent their former employees from defecting to the new project. Though the big splash from the announcement was light on specifics, the significance was clear –Titans of Industry know that private healthcare insurance is broken. I’m glad they’ve taken that step, but we cannot give them excessive credit.
This joint venture, called ABC in court documents, seems to be pursuing the noble goal of lowering pharmacy costs, enhancing the quality of care, and reducing complexity. I’d say that’s an effective diagnosis of clear flaws in our flailing employer-based system. Reforming that system is, however, an incomplete prescription.
The fact is employer-based coverage is plainly inadequate. New data shows that for people dependent on employer-based coverage, more are underinsured now than in 2010. Hard working Americans, thinking they’re covered, are likely to face high out-of-pocket costs and deductibles that renders their insurance shockingly useless. This is the dangerous reality for the millions of people who do not work for ABC partners.
I can tell you from years of industry experience tinkering is not enough, and the sustainable fix is going to take more than well-intentioned innovations and startup culture.
ABC providing better healthcare for people working in a handful of companies is taking a tiny bite out of the real problem. Most people work for small and mid-sized businesses that cannot be realistically expected to follow suit. ABC, if successful, will create a boutique package for Amazon employees, but everyone else is still stuck.
A Medicare for All program addresses the same concerns, comes with the same benefits, and applies to a much larger pool of people. Healthcare security for Americans shouldn’t be dependent on elite membership to a select college of corporations. Let’s attack the problem with a safety net that covers everyone.
Wendell Potter is the president of Business Initiative for Health Policy